We don’t really like beeswax or sandpaper for thumb rolls. The beeswax builds up and is kind of sticky. Sandpaper removes any resonance from the head. Rich O’Donnell has been using Damar Resin for over 40 years. Damar is a Soft Living Resin gathered from trees in tropical Asia. It normally comes in crystal but we have found a powdered form of Singapore Damar Resin that fits the bill. It doesn’t build up, it doesn’t get sticky, it just gives you the friction you need to perform nice thumb rolls on demand.
We call it ThumbRite. It comes in a 100% cotton bag inside a reclosable plastic container. You can use it in several ways — take the bag out of the container and whisk it across the head or leave the bag inside and press your thumb on the bag when you need a little traction. In a few orchestral parts that call for a lot a thumb rolls over a long period of time, a small amount of the resin deposited in the palm of the hand that holds the tambo provides a quick opportunity to “recharge” the thumb with warm resin in immediate reach.
It also helps for “figure eight” continuous rolls.
It’s subtle. You’ll know it’s there but it won’t overwhelm you or the instrument.